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Topical Sermon on Baptism

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Dear Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,

There are few topics that get me more excited than discussing God’s love to people demonstrated through the sacrament of baptism.  I even think about it when I’m supposed to be sleeping.

While we were camping this summer, Abigail woke us up early one morning and  I began thinking about baptism.  While we hiked that morning I fleshed out some more of that sermon.  That afternoon, I sat down with the Bible and my notepad and jotted down that sermon.  I already promised the Vedder family that we would use that sermon when Jonah is baptized.

The sermon tonight is something different.  It is a topical sermon that arose from a discussion we had around the table in the Consistory meeting.  We got to talking about baptism as we’ve seen it administered in other congregations – local congregations we’ve visited, where friends and family members attend, the places where Christian brothers and sisters express their faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour in ways that are different than the way we do things.

Just up the street on Third St is Bethany Community Church.  It is a large church that is popular in our community.  Many of you have visited there, we’ve used their facilities before and some former members of our congregation worship there now. 

They are affiliated with the Evangelical Missionary Church of Canada.  The first thing I want to say is that this is a Christian Church and a Christian denomination.  They preach God’s Word and point to salvation through faith in our crucified and risen Saviour Jesus Christ.  When it comes to faith, we have more in common with them than we have differences.

But their teaching on baptism is different than ours.  This is what they teach:

The Christian ordinances are two in number, baptism and the Lord's Supper.  They are the outward rites appointed by Christ to be administered in each local church, not as means of salvation, but as visible signs and seals of its reality.

Baptism by water is the symbol of one's union by faith with Christ in death, burial, and resurrection. It constitutes the public confession of these spiritual realities to the world and is the answer of a good conscience toward God (1).  Baptism is administered, preferably by immersion, to those who have been born again by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and who give evidence of the genuineness of their salvation (2). [1]

Eden High is a local Christian school that some of our children attend.  The roots of the school are in the Mennonite Brethern churches of Niagara-on-the-Lake and St. Catharines.  Many of the students who attend Eden High also worship at Mennonite Brethern churches.  As friendships grow, you have opportunities to discuss faith together.  You may also be invited to come and witness as someone professes their faith and receive the sacrament of baptism.  It is good to gather together to worship God and celebrate the gift of new life in Jesus Christ.  Yet the Mennonite Brethern churches also look at baptism somewhat differently that Christians in the Reformed family of churches.

Again, I want to be clear that the Mennonite Brethern churches also confess and preach that Jesus Christ saves sinful people through his death and resurrection.  There teaching about baptism reflects that common belief:

Confession

We believe that when people receive God’s gift of salvation, they are to be baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Baptism is a sign of having been cleansed from sin. It is a covenant with the church to walk in the way of Christ through the power of the Spirit.

Meaning

Baptism by water is a public sign that a person has repented of sins, received forgiveness of sins, died with Christ to sin, been raised to newness of life and received the Holy Spirit. Baptism is a sign of the believer’s incorporation into the body of Christ as expressed in the local church. Baptism is also a pledge to serve Christ according to the gifts given to each person.

Eligibility

Baptism is for those who confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and commit themselves to follow Christ in obedience as members of the local church. Baptism is for those who understand its meaning, are able to be accountable to Christ and the church, and voluntarily request it on the basis of their faith response to Jesus Christ.

Practice

We practice water baptism by immersion administered by the local church. Local congregations may receive into membership those who have been baptized by another mode on their confession of faith. Persons who claim baptism as infants and wish to become members of a Mennonite Brethren congregation are to receive baptism on their confession of faith.[2]

Now there is much here that we agree with.  There is much more that is similar than is different in the way we view salvation and baptism.

After all, the Reformed family of churches also teaches that it is normal for a person to be baptized when they profess their faith.  We agree with believers’ baptism. 

It was only a couple of years ago that our sister congregation, Maranatha had 17 baptisms in one service.  Most of the people who were baptized that day were adults and teenagers – believers in Jesus Christ who had never been baptized before.

There are good reasons to follow this practice.  All through the NT we see adults coming to faith in Jesus Christ when the gospel is shared with them.  You know the stories.  There is a common refrain, tying belief with baptism:

Mark 16: 15, 16 [Jesus] said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

Acts 8: 12 When [the people of Samaria] believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.

Acts 18: 5, 8 When Silas and Timothy came [to Corinth] from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. . . Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized.

Belief is connected with baptism.  The two go together. 

That is clearly seen in the passage we read this evening too. Paul and Silas were beaten and thrown in jail because a slave girl was rescued from an evil spirit.  Preaching the freedom from slavery to sin and evil landed Paul and Silas in prison.

You’ve heard this story: the earthquake, the open doors, the jailer about to fall on his sword.  But then the question is asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized.

Faith and then baptism.  It is a biblical pattern for entry into the church of Christ.

Why do believers in the Reformed family of churches baptize the children of believers?  Why does the United Church of Canada allow children to be baptized?  Why do the Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox churches all teach that children of believers should be baptized?

I heard it regularly when I attended a Baptist seminary:  Infants are not able to express faith, why should they be baptized?  It is the same question you’ll face when you talk to your friends from Eden High or Bethany Community Church, and many other Christian friends.  If the biblical example in the NT is consistently: repent, believe and be baptized, why does your church teach that infants ought to be baptized when they cannot repent or express faith?

I’m so glad when that question comes up.  You’ll find answers to that question in the Heidelberg Catechism LD 27, Belgic Confession Art. 34, Canons of Dort, First Point Art. 17, and we’ll confess it together from the Contemporary Testimony St. 39.  But it is unlikely that those documents will mean much to your questioner.  We must turn to Scripture, on which those confessions depend for their authority.

So what does Scripture say?  The children of believers are holy (I Cor. 7:14). 

When the Lord chooses a person for salvation, that person becomes a member of the household of God.  That person is a citizen of the Kingdom of heaven.  All that they are and all that the Lord gives to them is part of God’s Kingdom.

So children born or adopted by a believer are included in the household of faith.  That is seen in our passage from Acts 16.  When the jailer and all the others in his household heard the word of the Lord and believed in the Lord Jesus, they were baptized.  They offered their allegiance to the Kingdom of God.

Children of believers are born into that Kingdom.  Through the faith of their parents, children gain citizenship in God’s kingdom.  They are called part of God’s family.  The jailer is not the only person in the NT whose whole family or household was baptized.  It happens several times in Acts. Cornelius the centurion, Lydia of Thyatira, Crispus the synagogue ruler, and Stephanas of Corinth – all had their households baptized when they came to faith in Jesus Christ.

This practise is firmly rooted in the way God explained his covenant of grace to Abraham in Genesis 17.

God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. 10 This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. 12 For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring. 13 Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant.

God in his love extends his covenant promises to the whole household of those who believe.  Because Reformed Christians see continuity in God’s covenant of grace revealed in the OT and NT, we see the sacrament of baptism being a continuation of the sign and seal of circumcision. The extension of God’s promises to the whole household make it important for believers to present their children for baptism.

Of course, baptism does not save without faith.  The time comes when parents no longer make the choices for their children.  A parent’s faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour is adequate for little children, but the time comes when children need to respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Faith is something that grows and is taught.  It is contagious, but it is not automatic.  So as part of raising children, in the church and in the home, we teach them about God’s love and the gospel of Jesus Christ.  And eventually, we ask them if they accept the promises God extended to them in their baptism. 

When our children and young people publically profess their faith, they are publicly declaring their acceptance of God’s promises, their faith in Jesus as Saviour and Lord, and their allegiance to the Kingdom of God.

Dearly loved people of God, God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  Our God loves our children enough that the sacrifice of his Son is for them too.  We are not left without assurance for the children of believers.  God’s covenant promises are for them as well as for us, accepted by the faith of their parents.


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[1] www.emcc.ca/default.asp?id=6 (1) Matt. 28:19; Acts 2:36-41; Rom. 6:3-5.  (2) Acts 8:12-13,34-39.

[2] www.mbconf.ca/believe/confession/baptism.en.html Matthew 3:13-17; Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 2:38; Romans 6:2-6; 1 Corinthians 12:13; Colossians 2:12-13; Galatians 3:26-27; Ephesians 4:4-6.

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